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Barney's Back and This One Is a Real Wanna-Bee

November 2012 | by Craig DeVrieze

View pictures of Barney and the SAU cheerleaders in action

His first name is Jordan and his father is big fan of basketball. But, no, the first-year St. Ambrose student from Davenport wasn't named after the Chicago Bulls legend who virtually walked on air just over a decade ago.

Which is fine. Because Michael isn't the Bull Jordan McGinnis grew up idolizing, anyway.

That Bull would be Benny.

"Benny the Bull - I love him," McGinnis said with a tone approaching reverence for the Chicago pro basketball squad's costumed mascot. "I want to be just like him. When I grow up, I want to be Benny the Bull. I think that would be awesome."

Don't sell that dream short.

McGinnis never may be able to dunk with enough grace to make Nureyev jealous. That's Air Jordan's schtick.

Our Jordan? Take it from the Bumbling Bee, and this is no bull, the kid could give Benny a run for his money right now.

Benny the Bull meet Barney the Bee.

"Oh my gosh, he's terrific," St. Ambrose cheerleading coach Felicia Miles said of McGinnis' work as the first Barney to patrol the football and basketball sidelines since 1999. "He could be the Bee without a costume. He just does whatever he can to energize the crowd. "

No doubt. Whether he is challenging young fans to push-up contests, delivering a crisp salute to a man in uniform, miming his discontent with the men in stripes or tossing a cheerleader into the air, McGinnis has brought Barney back to life in wonderfully animated style.

Until this year, Barney had been benched for athletic events since 1999, when a costumed student was injured by an overzealous fan.

Miles had enlisted a Barney for a few off-campus cheerleading contests the past couple of years, but she appealed to Athletic Director Ray Shovlain to bring the Bee back to the football and basketball sidelines this year. Had to have him, she insisted.

"Your school mascot is a complete representation of school spirit, " Miles said.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect for McGinnis, a wanna-Bee if ever there was. He sought out Miles to volunteer for the gig his first week in school and has been putting in the time without benefit of the scholarship stipend for which he is eligible.An ardent sports fan, McGinnis just is happy to get into the ballgames for free. He is even happier to get to stay through the contests' conclusions. "I like to make a big fool of myself anyways, so I figured why not get into the football and basketball games for free and not get kicked out," he said.

Yep. There's a story there. At North High soccer matches, he said, there was a tradition of the entire student section getting shown the gate for riding the referees a bit too hard. McGinnis claimed it happened once or twice each year. "They kicked us all out because we were ridiculous," he said.

There's nothing ridiculous about McGinnis' approach to being Barney. He is taking tumbling lessons in addition to practicing 10 hours each week alongside Miles' 38-member varsity cheer squad, a group that finished fourth in the nation among NAIA schools last spring.

As for his gametime work ethic? Know this: Barney is sweat Bee.

More expensive mascot costumes come equipped with motorized fans in those oversized heads. Not our Barney. Not yet. "Even when it's cold outside, it's hot," said McGinnis, who figures to be changing clothes every quarter during indoor basketball games.

That's fine, though. Just consider it sweat equity on a warm and fuzzy dream - although, for the record, "Mascot-ry" isn't among the three majors McGinnis claims. As a speech, theater and music education major, he chiefly dreams of standing in front of a classroom. In his civvies.

"I would really like to go back to my high school and teach there," he said. "And then be a mascot on the side."

Benny better watch his back.


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